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Today’s challenges offer an opportunity to rebuild trust in digital media

January 24, 2017 | By Rande Price, Research Director—DCN @Randeloo

With trust in mass media at a record low, publishers look to 2017 as an opportunity to distinguish quality journalism from the fake news landscape and bot traffic of big tech platforms.

CEOs, editors and digital leaders today recognize both the opportunities and the challenges in 2017. Reuters Institute surveyed 143 senior publishing executives in 24 countries to recognize current business sentiment, uncover trends and identify new developments in the digital marketplace. Interestingly, Reuters found that more than two-thirds (70%) of executives believe fake news offers them a chance to strengthened their brands. More than half (56%) say that Facebook Messenger will be an “important/very important” part of their offsite initiatives this year (53% for WhatsApp and 49% for Snapchat). And at the same time, just under half (46%) of these same respondents are more worried today than a year ago, about the role of offsite platforms.

In Reuters Institute’s annual predictions report, the key trends identified for 2017 include:

1. Addressing fake news

  • Fact-checking news outlets becomes the new norm.
  • Platform and algorithm changes allowing for easier reporting of false news (and feeding these signals back into the core algorithms so these sources get devalued).
  • Regulation threats to remove fake news from sites.
  • Algorithms are expected to challenge our bias.
  • Fighting for quality news brands.

2. Redefining publishers’ relationship with platforms

  • Publishers fight back by creating platforms of their own (e.g. Schibsted, started its own platforms for content and advertising to create the scale and data competence to compete with Facebook).
  • Platforms pay hard cash for content.
  • Mergers and acquisitions happen more often as scale will mean operating across multiple platforms.

3. Digital advertising and sustainable business models

  • Subscription payments will focus more about membership and less about paywalls. News publishers, especially, will need to attract new customers, offer new pay services and earn more money from their current subscribers.
  • Data, loyalty and personalization will help with converting unidentified web users into loyal customers by creating more relevant and personal experiences.
  • Mobile alerts and the battle for locked screens signifies the shift to mobile notifications to attract consumers back to apps and websites.
  • Acceptable ads and ad-blocking apply pressure on the marketplace to ensure a more positive user experience with non-intrusive advertising.
  • Sponsored content replaces the displayad model.
  • Pop-up newspapers and magazines will offer in-depth coverage on certain topics but for only a limited period of time.

4. Messaging applications and news bots

  • Voice news bots with voice-activated platforms gain strong penetration (e.g. Alexa and Google Home).
  • Fact-checking bots are activated (e.g. Full Fact, a UK based company, is already looking to developing a service that fact checks live press conferences).
  • Conversational commerce emerges (e.g. Crosby, a travel bot service, that reads your email or group messaging conversations and send you recommendations for where to eat, what to do and when to leave for the airport).

5. Voice as an operating system and the rebirth of audio

  • Podcasts and audio books get a big boost in the car.
  • Improvements to data and advertising around podcasts lead to significant investments by publishers. A new measurement system form Nielsen’s and a Swedish start-up platform Acast offer metrics for podcasts to support advertising models.
  • Businesses start to deploy Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers (e.g. hotels use voice-controlled devices to enable guests to order room service, check the weather and find TV channels).

6. Online video and the future of TV

  • Disillusion with Facebook Live shifts a live focus towards sport and exclusive music, both strong vehicles to attract audiences and advertisers.
  • Oversupply of short form video leads to falling advertising premiums.
  • New opportunities with feature-based videos for brands integrate messages into videos.
  • Video-selfies to experiment with new fantastical filters (e.g. Splash is a new app that allows you to create and annotate 360-degree experiences).

7. The blurring of television and online video

  • Top content will increasingly be watched on big screens.
  • Competition for talent and rights heats up to drive new subscription and retain existing users.
  • News bulletins lose audiences triggers new ways to appeal to young (e.g. CNN acquired video-sharing app start-up Beme, co-founded by YouTube creator Casey Neistat, is building a new brand around distinctive reporting and commentary for millennials).
  • New cross-platform metrics for TV.

8. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR)

  • New reality tech offers huge potential to shape experiences for entertainment, education and commerce. Forecasters suggest around 30m devices will be sold by 2020 generating revenue of around $21 billion.

9. AI and algorithms under fire (e.g. An example gone sour was Microsoft’s friendly AI driven chatbot Tay. Within its first 24 hours on Twitter with Millennials, it was spouting offensive and racist messages such as “Hitler was right”).

10. Automation and a jobless future means robo journalism on the way

  • More automated stories.
  • Intelligent content production systems.
  • Computer and networked assisted investigations.
  • Filters and alerts are being developed to help manage the information overload (e.g. SamDesk and Dataminr are deployed in newsrooms to pinpoint and manage breaking news in social networks).

11. Cyber-Wars, and Personal Security

  • Encryption and surveillance are on the rise.

12. New technology

  • Sharper screens, fold out phones, better batteries.
  • Faster and more reliable networks (e.g. 5G).
  • Clothes as a platform with wearable technology.
  • Biometrics, the end of passwords and checkout-free shopping. A new shopping experience, Amazon Go, that automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves using computer vision and sensor fusion.

13. Start-ups to watch

  • Cheddar is a new business news video network for millennial. Founder Jon Steinberg of Buzzfeed is charging $6.99 for premium services on its own website and is looking to drive carriage fees from services like Facebook Live, Twitter and Netflix.
  • Zipline is a small robot airplane designed to carry vaccines, medicine and blood in developing countries.
  • Houseparty is a new group video chat, up to 8 people can chat at a time, from the creators of Meerkat.
  • Accompany aims to provide an automated briefing of all the information you need before you walk into any meeting including relevant files, email conversations with attendees, details about their lives sucked from the web plus up-to-date information on company performance.

2017 provides many opportunities for publishers to rebuild consumer trust in digital media. The Reuters Institute predictions suggest that publishers must help scrub the digital environment from bot traffic, annoying ads and fake or misleading news. They must hold themselves and others responsible and keep a watchful eye on the algorithmic accountability tied to the digital experience. Importantly, publishers must continue to build their digital brand and diversify their revenue streams beyond digital display advertising.

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